Is This Feminazi-ish?

I have a distinct memory that goes back to the 4th grade. It’s 1971…

“When writing or speaking,” the teacher said, “and you don’t know whether the subject is a boy or a girl, we use the pronoun, ‘he’.”

3076143_zI was instantly offended. “That’s not fair,” I thought as I sat silently in my little school desk holding a worn down #2 pencil.

As the years progressed, it eventually became clear that this lesson set the tone in our nation in many ways. And I learned through high school and on into college, that if I pointed out the many ways in which assuming the masculine was a dangerous and damaging thing psychologically and even socially, especially to women and young girls, that I would be labeled a “Feminazi”.

On the other hand, if I didn’t protest, I seethed inside. Or I wilted inside.  It was a pronoun battle I just couldn’t win.

While feelings of frustration were greatly compounded in my Christian world, I did manage to find workarounds. When a portion of scripture began with “Dear Brothers…” I would often quietly insert the feminine by whispering, “And Sisters.” At church I’d do the same. If our pastor used terms like, “mankind” or “man” to refer to all of us, I’d insert the feminine under my breath.

Needless to say, this is an exhausting way to live. But even to this day, when I hear, “All men are created equal…and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”, I cannot resist saying, “Oh…. and women”. (Only these days I’ll say it with some sass.)

Who I am today and where I stand on religion is directly tied to that lesson in school.  When “she” and “her” were left out… I felt left out. When the boy sitting next to me in the 4th grade was the subject when we all should have been, I felt less-than. When the preacher left out half the body of Christ in his sermon by neglecting to include one little pronoun, I felt the impact.  Many women take this in stride. To me… that’s not a good thing.

I just wonder… should I not have felt that way? Could I not have felt that way?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

What Are YOUR Stepping Stones?

stepping-stones-across-creekFor me, leaving Christianity was a bit like crossing a creek. I couldn’t do it in one big leap… I needed stepping stones and a little time to get across.

Ironically, one of my many stepping stones toward unbelief was a group called Christians For Biblical Equality.

I don’t know a whole lot about CBE in their present state. I’ve not been involved with them for about 2 decades now. But in a nutshell, back then it was a group of scholarly types who wrote endless papers explaining all the reasons women really ARE equal to men in the sight of God, in spite of what scripture actually says.

At the time, CBE and its many resources became a lifeline for me. My personal study of scripture and the sexism I observed in the bible, the church and in ministry proved a constant source of pain. It only grew worse as I connected the dots that god himself was behind it all: A logical conclusion, but one that cut like a knife.

I was idealistic, naive, and trusting. I bled a lot.

So it was that nagging ache over gender inequality in the body of Christ that lead me straight to CBE’s door looking for answers. However, in spite of their best efforts and their boundless resources, the ache persisted. After a few years standing on that particular stone, I took another little hop over to the next one: Accepting that some portions of scripture were simply wrong.

Yep. There goes the word, “inerrancy”. I had to turn that loose.

What many “Biblical Inerrancy” believing Christians don’t stop to think about is this: It only takes ONE error to take the word, “inerrancy” off the table. Just one. And yet, there are many starting in the very first chapter of the very first book of the bible as this young YouTuber, The Cosmic Skeptic (Alex O’Connor) so brilliantly explains:

Once I realized that the bible contained errors about the little things, I took another leap to the next stepping stone which turned out to be this simple realization:

If the bible could be wrong about little mathematical or geographical details, then it might contain errors about the BIG spiritual or eternal deal-makers, too.

And so it goes… from one stone to the next until I realized I could no longer call myself a believer.

This whole thing is a woeful oversimplification that any exChristian will tell you. The journey across the creek is a dreadful, treacherous one fraught with fear, doubt, and pain. And for most of us, the journey out can take years! But like any journey worth taking, there are joys to be experienced and freedoms to be explored.

Are you and exChristian? I’d love to know: What were your stepping stones?

 

I Hate This Memory… But I Tell It With Hope

A recent conversation dredged up an old memory.

I hate this memory. I tell it only to reveal how religious indoctrination twists the mind.

In the course of a recent a conversation with a fellow atheist friend, she uttered a simple phrase that sent me reeling… “Let ’em pray about it, I don’t care. What’s the harm in praying?

Immediately, a putrid, ugly memory came hurling at me like a 50 foot wave of toxic sludge… It was an instant visceral reaction.

sunsetIt’s 35 years ago. I’m walking to my car with my fiancé after having just dismissed from a mid-week church service at our charismatic, full-gospel church in rural Georgia. It’s hot and sticky. A slow summer evening cradles a lazy sun low above the pine trees.

Down the sidewalk at a distance comes a young woman, stumbling slowly towards us. We watch with caution as she approaches.

She’s a mess. Disheveled hair, smudged mascara, and very, very high.

“Are you okay?” I ask. She slurs an indecipherable something. “What happened?” I press further as I note a tiny bit of dried blood in the corner of her mouth as she gets closer.

I look around the parking lot for assistance, but we were the only people left. My fiancé asks, “Where are you going?” She tells us she’s headed home, just two blocks away.

We talk with her for a few minutes in an attempt to coax something intelligible from her lips. Where had she walked from? Who was she with? Does she have family that can pick her up? She gushes over every question, thanks us for our concern, tells us over and over how sweet we are, but no, there’s no one to call. She just wants to go home.

We assess the situation and after a minute or two, come to a conclusion. What this young woman needs is salvation. Yep. That’s what she needs. Jesus.

Not medical help.
Not a lift home.

Jesus.

crossSo we pray the Sinners Prayer right there on the sidewalk inviting her to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

She complies, of course, as her out-of-control, drug soaked brain sparks in a hundred frenetic directions at once. She cries. We tell her God loves her. She hugs us. We assure her that her sins are forgiven. She thanks us profusely for caring. We assure her that if she were the only person on earth, Jesus would have still died just for her. More tears. More hugs. More drug infused gushes of emotion.

Satisfied in her salvation, we send her on her way. She stumbles for two full blocks… alone. She weaves back and forth on the sidewalk as we whisper prayers in cadence until she fades into the dark. In the name of Jesus. Watch over her, Lord… Hallelujah. Praise God.

I struggle as I watch her. I second-guess myself. We can’t put her in our car. She’s on drugs and might be dangerous, I think. God is in control, I assure myself. I’m ruled by faith, not by fear, I mutter in prayer. I plead the blood of Jesus over her… God place an angel on her right and on her left…

Never saw the young woman again. Not in the local mini mart, not at the movies, not in church. Maybe she made it home… I hope so.

Rick Warren once said, “Living in the light of eternity changes your priorities.” And he’s absolutely right. But often times, in a dreadful, twisted sort of way.

prayAt the time, our actions made perfect sense to us. Her eternal well-being far outranked her physical well-being. She could die right there, out-of-her-mind high without Jesus and burn in hell for all eternity OR we could introduce her to Jesus before it’s too late. Save her soul. Set her free.

It never occurred to us that perhaps we could have done both: pray for her AND get her medical help. It was a toxic concoction of tunnel vision and indoctrination.

Religion can take a good brain and tie it in a knot.

Churches teach eternal promises based on nothing more than faith and hope. Faith and hope in eternity becomes the priority even over the obvious physical needs staring them in the face. It’s the choice between the eternal and the temporal… a choice that in reality, doesn’t even have to be made.

At 19 or 20, I was not the brightest bulb in the pack. I was both naive and idealistic. My involvement in the charismatic church – where we took God at his Word believing if we prayed, He would intervene – makes for a dangerous mix of immaturity and religiosity.

Somehow, in this encounter, I couldn’t trust God to keep me safe for the five minutes it would have taken to drive this girl home and yet I trusted Him completely to save us both for all eternity. In what world does this make any sense?

The Further Away I Get: 10 Years Out of Christianity

It’s been ten years since I dared to say out loud to myself…

I don’t believe in Jesus anymore.

There’s a lot of loss when a person ditches religion. Lots of agonizing worry and haunting fear. While enormously freeing and ultimately wondrous, there are undeniable holes left behind and wounds that take time to heal. Relationships change, points of view take on new hues, and time is spent differently.

ClockI power walked my brains out last Sunday morning for the two hours that I once would have spent in a pew. I listened to an audio book about the backstory of the HeLa Cell and I fought church traffic on my way home from the trail head. Dreadful timing. On the drive I heard myself say for the umpteenth time, “I don’t miss that at all.”  Meaning church.

And I don’t. Not at all. I’ve had moments where I’m almost giddy driving past a church while I sing, “I don’t have to do that anymore!” to the tune of “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ For Christmas.” It’s a weird thing to be ten years out and still so exuberant over not feeling obligated to go to church. Seems that should have passed by now.  And yet…

There is no playbook on how to grieve or celebrate the death of your religious beliefs.

The further away I get from Christianity, the more foolish my old belief seems to me. It’s interesting to note the changes in my thinking as each year passes.

For a few years after my de-conversion, I still held onto the belief in an afterlife. After all, if we humans can emerge on earth and live and grow without a god governing us, why can’t the same be true in a spiritual place beyond death? Then that started to not resonate so much.

angel-1287080_640I believed in spirits for awhile: Angels and demons with no god governance. I don’t really know why I held onto that as long as I did. Maybe because I’d attributed some strange occurrences to the paranormal and I just couldn’t find a place for those memories. Old ghosts, I guess.

A few years later my belief in spirits took a beating as I dug deeper into the theory of evolution. Earlier this year Bill Nye The Science Guy’s book Undeniable kinda shoved me over the hump. There was a time in my Christian life I wouldn’t have touched his book with a ten footer. But I read that one twice, back-to-back.

The scars of leaving the faith are many. The psychological damage is hard to calculate and I try not to actually do the math too much these days. Moving forward into new things is far more enjoyable than adding up all the losses and hurts. But I miss a few of my friends and I continue to feel frustrated by those who hold fast to beliefs that now appear silly to me. We shared those beliefs once. Now we’re worlds apart…

Every once in awhile I think it’d be nice to have a god who truly is in control… someone bigger and more powerful to trust and count on.

Might seem strange to hear an atheist say that. But the fact is, there was an enormous amount of comfort thinking that there was a god who had the whole world in his hands. At least, as long as I didn’t focus on his tyrannical side.

Some time back a Christian friend said to me, “You’ll be back.” I was still angry at that point and I said, “Don’t hold your breath.” We’d been close for a number of years. But we’ve not seen each other now for quite some time. What once connected us, now separates us.

Now the anger has passed. Still… I feel more certain of my departure than I was even when the anger was raw. But I miss that friendship none-the-less. And a couple of others that have moved on with their Christian friends.

There are definitely holes.

Disturbing Video-And It Makes Me MAD

I read an article this morning that included the following video of children being coaxed into falling out in the spirit.

Coming from a Charismatic/Full-Gospel background, “falling out in the spirit” was a coveted experience. Everyone wanted it to happen to them. I was no exception.

The first time I saw this happen, I was blown away. “God’s power will knock you down?” What was this? Why?

Many described it as a holy, gentle push from God, as if He was blowing you over with His love. I longed for the experience. I prayed for it, waited for it and submitted myself to the possibility of it.

Not once while being prayed for did I feel any sensation of being blown over. But I did fake it once.

I was at a prayer meeting with a bunch of my friends. We were in our late teens, full of the holy spirit and zealous about our faith. The leader of the group, a man in his mid-thirties was going around praying for each one of us. One by one, my friends fell backward when he touched them.

I could not wait until he got around to me. But much to my dismay, nothing happened. He prayed and prayed and I felt nothing. He put his hand on my forehead and pushed a little but it didn’t feel like anything other than a guy trying to push me back. He kept praying and everyone joined in so finally, after some minutes, I just fell backward into the arms of my friend.

My head was full of accusations before I even landed on the floor:

“Why didn’t God touch you like he did your friends?”

“What have you done wrong that God would skip over you?”

“Why aren’t you as sensitive to the Holy Spirit as they are?”

Guilt followed me home. I felt so alone and totally unworthy.

That’s why this video below makes me angry and sick. Watch for yourself and see the kids who haven’t yet figured out what they are ‘supposed’ to do. Clearly, if falling out in the spirit was a real thing, there wouldn’t be little kids looking confused and befuddled when the preacher prays for them. They’d simply be blown over by God’s spirit.

It’s a sham. And it’s a shame. And it’s psychological abuse.

Confessions of a Preacher’s Wife: Presumed Upon

I’d like to preface this post with a little poem I wrote about 20 years ago… It goes like this:

The Preacher’s Wife

So fittingly, meekly seated
all proper in her chair
with wide, embroidered collar
and neatly short cropped hair

Appropriate her words are
each smile, direct on cue
she nods and graciously handshakes
and speaks when spoken to

She hosts a tea, and bakes a cake
organizes the church bazaar
occasionally teaches Sunday school
and sings soprano in the choir

She keeps her fishbowl nice and clean
and the life she’s living in it
for parishioners, invited or not
could drop by any minute

Outwardly the perfect wife
clean, well groomed and bred
but inwardly, she dances nude
with a lampshade on her head.

My husband is retired so technically, I’m a former preacher’s wife. But we were in the game for over 25 years if that adds any credibility to this blog post.

Those with a mainstream Christian background know that many church people have a somewhat romanticized view of their pastor and his family. In my experience, pastor’s families are often propped up on pedestals and therefore, separated from everyone else on some imagined higher level of existence.

As a family and as individuals, we were treated as something OTHER. Being a church’s ‘first family’ can be quite lonely and isolating and riddled with fear.

Life on a pedestal equates to an elevated sense of self importance for some. For me though, fear was a larger component because failure at some point was a certainty.

People presumed so much.

They presumed we had it all together. They presumed our family lived in a constant state of peace and harmony. And they presumed that we were closer to God than they were.

mai-tai-1220775_640.jpgIf I had a nickel for every time someone elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Hey! Ask your husband to pray for me. After all, he has an in-line to God”  I’d be retired on a golden beach sipping Mai Tais with little green umbrellas served by a Cabana Boy.

People asked me to pray for them, too, but more like a second-string backup player. Often they’d preface their request with something like, “Will you pray for me? I know God hears your prayers just as much as your husband”… as if trying to convince themselves that they’d still get a good deal even though I wasn’t him.

And oh the crap my kids endured! They were endlessly hit up for the answers to Sunday School bible questions and picked first for the Bible Trivia competition at youth group. No pressure, preacher’s kids! Their peers assumed they knew all that bible stuff, chapter and verse as if we sat around as a family reading it all day long.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Much to my chagrin, being presumed upon happened absolutely all the time to all of us.

As for me, if there was a ministry within the church that had to do with women or children, people automatically presumed I was the committee chair person.

True story from 20 years ago…

One afternoon I received a phone call from my husband’s admin and office manager. “I just got a call from the guest speaker for the women’s retreat,” she said. “She asked me for your phone number.”

Apparently, she wanted to schedule a meeting with me to go over the retreat schedule and to pray about the line-up of events. She had some suggestions for ice breakers and a laundry list of items she needed including a dry erase board. She was hoping to set up a meeting with me to go over all of it and get acquainted personally before the event.

But I had no idea who this woman was. I’d never heard her name in my life and on top of that, I wasn’t on the retreat committee. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to attend the women’s retreat that year. Needless to say, I was perplexed. “Why’s she want to talk to me about all this stuff?” I asked. “She needs to talk to the retreat organizers.”

Apparently, the Admin had tried numerous times throughout the conversation to explain to this woman that I was not her contact person. But no matter what she said, the woman simply couldn’t get it through her head that I… the preacher’s wife … was not involved in organization of the women’s retreat.

inconceivable.jpg

I know preacher’s wives whose whole lives are wrapped up in their husband’s ministries. They are in every sense, “co- laborers in Christ.” They organize the Fall festivals. They oversee the women’s retreat. They run the children’s ministry. And they love that role and relish the ride.

But filling the role of the pastor’s wife can be isolating even if you love it. It’s so much worse if you don’t love it. And I didn’t, which made being presumed upon even more burdensome. 

The poem at the beginning isn’t much of a description of me back then. I wasn’t the ‘wide embroidered collar’ type and naked dancing?! Not even in my ‘fit as a fiddle’ days would this fiddle have played that tune! What it does describe is me as the quintessential square peg in a round hole and a generalized mold that’s cast for minister’s wives. A mold I couldn’t fill adequately.

Life as a preacher’s wife was somewhat manageable for me with a shared belief in Christ. But when my faith unraveled, nothing much was manageable at all. Based on these experiences, I’m especially cautious not to presume upon people.

A True Story About Kim

This is a true story, accurate to the best of my ability to recount.

The time: Winter of 1983

The setting: Rural south, USA

Kim [not her real name] started hanging out with me and my Charismatic friends from FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) during our second year of college. She was an odd girl, but nothing over the top. Just a tad quirky. And I liked quirky!

Right before she left for Christmas break she asked if she could stay at my parent’s house for 2 nights upon her return as her landlord would be painting her apartment. I was a college student living at home at that time, so I asked my parents and they agreed… it was all set.

Woman standing in a hall.jpgTwo days before her return I got this horrible sense of foreboding. Absolute dread. In fact, I had a sense of danger. I did not want Kim in my house. But it was totally out of left field with a basis in absolutely nothing. So I dismissed the gut feeling.

Upon her arrival, I knew something was off but couldn’t put a finger on it. Ever had that happen? Something just isn’t right, but by all outward appearances, there’s no reason to act on the feeling? I again shrugged it off.

I set her up in the guest room for the night and went to bed.

Hand on doorknobAs I headed to my room, I had this overwhelming urge to lock the door to that wing of the house where mine and my parents bedroom was. I wanted to lock my bedroom door, as well.

I stood staring at the knob. I’m just being silly, I thought. I closed both doors, but I didn’t lock them.

The next morning I awoke unusually early, turned over in bed only to find she’d let herself into my bedroom and was standing there in a flowing white nightgown, just glaring down at me. Straight out of a horror movie. I gasped and said, “Kim! What are you doing?” She mumbled a response like, I just wondered if you were up.

The next night I DID lock the doors. She left the following day without further incident and I shook it off in spite of her brazen violation of boundaries.

Kim fell off my radar for a month or so because I got married. But once my husband and I got settled into our new apartment and into our new routine, I began to take notice of her again.

What I saw was very strange and within weeks, the situation grew alarming.

Angel with white wings.jpgKim began making the claim that God told her she was the Angel of Laodicea. On top of that, she believed that she’d been called by God to Africa where I would be her disciple along with my new husband. She further claimed that God showed her that she was to marry one of our mutual friends, a guy I’ll call Steve.

Kim’s delusions escalated as her claims got louder with each passing week. There was a level of fixation on me that set my hair on end.

One evening at an FCA meeting, I spotted her from across a large, crowded room. She was talking to a group of girls in an animated fashion. Whatever she was saying had their undivided attention. Then she abruptly stopped, turned her head toward me and glared like she was shooting daggers from her eyes.

The look on her face scared me. Really scared me. It was all wrong.

Given my state of mind, my thought wasn’t fear for my physical safety. My immediate thought was that there might be a demon in her that could attack me spiritually. So, thinking that love conquers evil, I mouthed the words from across the room, I love you.

In an instant, her entire countenance changed. The wicked, weird look about her melted away, sliding off her chin leaving behind a sweet, cherub face. She smiled back and waved at me in a flirtatious manner. Coy and shy, like a middle schooler trying to get the attention of a crush.

It was beyond weird … Gave me chills. I stood frozen trying to make sense of it.

As the weeks progressed and her behavior grew stranger, many of us became convinced that Kim was possessed by a devil. While I can’t recall what it was that Kim did one night at our charismatic church, whatever it was prompted about a dozen members to encircle her and try to cast Satan out. She stood in the foyer as we gathered around praying in tongues and saying, You devil! Come out of her! Leave Kim alone!

Everything came to a head the following week when Kim showed up at Steve’s house with a knife in her hand. I have no idea what specific thought drove her to this point, but Steve’s parents were already on high alert. They knew about her claims to marry their son, they also knew about the claim that we were to be her disciples in Africa, and they’d been a part of the attempted exorcism at the church the week before. They stepped in and thwarted her violent plan against Steve.

No one got hurt in the knife incident, but Steve’s father called Kim’s parents that night. They immediately came to town to collect her. She was gone the rest of the year.

In the aftermath, Kim’s parents blamed the church for whatever it was that was happening to their daughter claiming our church was a cult that had brainwashed her.

In reconstructing this incident here, I’m overwhelmed and appalled at the many failures along the way by myself and by our church leadership. Were we culpable? Damn straight we were culpable. And it makes my stomach turn thinking on the role I played.

I can’t explain animal instincts. I can’t explain how I sensed danger a full two days before her arrival at my house. Maybe I had observed subtle behaviors I didn’t consciously recognize? In any case, what I once believed was the holy spirit, I now see as an innate warning signal of a primal sort. How it is that we humans can know and sense danger before it happens is a fascinating phenomena, but it’s not a spiritual one. It’s an animal thing. And I had ignored it.

I don’t fault myself for that. Acting appropriately on a gut feeling is a tricky maneuver and can go wrong. What I do fault myself for is ignoring the danger signs of a young woman in mental peril as her symptoms unfolded with greater clarity. Yes, I was young and inexperienced, but I could see like everyone else that this young woman was mentally unraveling. And yet, rather than call her parents immediately so she could get to a doctor, we invited Satan into this mix. And I was right there in the thick of it.

I am NOT a psychiatrist and have no training in diagnosing mental illness, but, in hindsight, she had all the classic symptoms of schizophrenia. Hearing voices, delusions of grandeur, disorganized thinking. Whether that was her ultimate diagnosis, I don’t know, but the signs were all there, playing out like a bad B movie… and what did we do?

We tried to cast out a devil.

Picture Kim, in mental confusion standing in the middle of a circle of nut jobs, yelling, “Come out of her you devil in the name of Jesus!” Can you put yourself in her shoes and imagine the confusion, the fear, the horror as she sunk further into her illness?

I write this because what happened to Kim is happening in churches today all over the world in the name of Jesus and in the name of other false gods. It’s real and it’s dangerous and the mentally ill and the physically sick get victimized by religious dogma that fails every time and makes situations dangerously worse.

Kim didn’t need a god. She needed a doctor. We intended for good… but that’s no excuse for the abuse we inflicted upon her.

I feel great shame and sorrow for Kim and the role I played in her torment as her mind failed her. 

No matter how painful, incidents like this one convince me to continue to tell my stories.